Friday, August 15, 2008
With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from the station turns out to be -- you guessed it -- Russia.
I admit, I had missed the news that the United States had planned on relying on Russia to put men into space. That was a terrible decision for the United States and, perhaps, for the development of the final frontier. History, which has a peculiar way of clarifying the significance of decisions not well understood contemporaneously, may well record this as one of the Bush administration's most inexcusable errors.
The USA has been sending Russia tens of millions of dollars each year for some time to pay for the decommissioning of old Soviet nuclear weapons and reactors. We also paid some millions to build a facility to dispose of liquid fuels from decommissioned Soviet ICBMs - only to have the Russians use that fuel to power space boosters launching commercial satellites.
When the 2K computer disaster came to our attention, we asked the Russians what they were doing to handle the problem and got back and answer that said "Nothing. We don't have the money. And you know, it would be too bad if some of these old missiles launched because of that problem." So more millions went over there to fix that.
Then there is the money Russia has made from launching Western satellites; it basically kept much of their space industry afloat.
That kind of crap has to stop. The Russians have been running what amounts to a protection racket for close to 20 years now.
On the other hand, later this year the USAF will launch the X-37B prototype space maneuvering vehicle on an Atlas V. And that booster will use a Russian-made engine. When the USAF decided – finally – to build a new series of boosters, one of the very few choices of propulsion available was the Russian RD-180 engine.
Due to the Shuttle program – itself a desperate attempt to save the NASA Apollo empire – the US had not designed any new rocket engines since the 1970's. One condition of that engine's use was that the US manufacture its own version.
The Russians reneged on that promise early and we have flown nothing but their engines on the Atlas V.
We need to stand on our own two feet and not rely on the Russians for vital military hardware.
- ht RWE
The reliance on Russian Soyuz craft for ferrying astronauts to the ISS is only going to be a problem during the period between the retirement of the Shuttle and the first launch of the Ares/Orion stack. If Vlad I continues in his Czar Trek, then the answer may be to add a few more years to the operational lifetime of that gorgeous, deadly white elephant called STS, till a more tenable human spaceflight system comes on-line.
That is, unless the American electorate swallows the blue pill, and The One decrees that keeping the teachers' union happy is worth more than giving generations of youths a vision for the future of the species.
I have a feeling that sometime in the near future, some rocket scientist (literally!) will determine that Endeavor, the last shuttle built to replace Discovery, still has a dozen flights in it's airframe, and that it will fly until the Ares is ready.
Sounds like a public pissing match between NASA and Congress for more funding to me.
As for the ongoing aid to dependant nations, it has to stop. The simple answer is, think mushroom cloud. We're still the biggest and strongest. We can never be certain that (more) arms or materiel don't make it to the black market, but we need to maintain the Reagan-like threat that there's an American at the top who will disregard the "stern scolding" of the the UN after we smoke a couple foreign cities (just to remind them that we're pissed). I'd have told the Russians if you can't be sure they don't launch, then disarm them until you are sure. If they launch, we launch in response. No mulligans.